Four Quartets, considered T.S. Eliot’s last great masterpiece, captures the poet’s eternally internal debate with the cosmos about time and spirituality, themes that Beethoven also thoroughly engaged at the end of his career, especially in his most celebrated work, “Symphony No. 9 (Ode To Joy).” Four Quartets was composed in response to one of Beethoven’s final works for string quartet, “Quartet in A minor, Op. 132”, a piece that Eliot described as “the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering.” This sentiment is reflected beautifully throughout the poems, written over a six-year period and first published in 1943.
Renowned British stage and film actor Stephen Dillane brought urgency and potency to Four Quartets, performed in its entirety at Lincoln Center’s Clark Studio Theater, as part of the White Light Festival. The stark setting: an unadorned stage with minimal lighting, created an intimate space for Dillane to interact directly with the audience, almost conversationally. Words unraveled into a steady rhythm as Dillane, clearly comfortable with the work, stalked across the stage, lending a fresh and authoritative voice to Eliot’s timeless ruminations.
The conversation continued with the Austin-based Miro Quartet’s rendition of “Quartet in A minor,” which immediately followed the reading. Well-versed in the language of Beethoven, the quartet were thrilling to watch, as the melodies drifted between each of the players in sheer delight. It was clear to see what Eliot found so enchanting in the work.
It was a rare treat to see the two masterpieces performed in tandem and in the capable hands of Dillane and the Miro Quartet, it was as if Eliot and Beethoven were in the room as well. Nights like this one are what drive people to the theater.
Top photo, Johan Persson
Second photo, Stephanie Berger
Four Quartets was performed as part of the White Light Festival at Lincoln Center. For information on more events in the series, which runs until November 19, 2011, please visit www.whitelightfestival.org.